Social care and mental health face a costly shake-up after the government last week announced it would outlaw age discrimination in goods and services provision.
In a paper outlining plans for the forthcoming Equality Bill, the government said “research suggests that there are extensive differences in treatment between age groups” in the two sectors.
A Department of Health-commissioned study, also published last week, found older individual budget users received less funding than younger adults for equivalent levels of need.
Drawing on the national evaluation of the individual budget pilots, the Personal Social Services Research Unit study said average care packages for older people would have to rise from £240 to £300 a week to bring provision in line with that for younger adults. This could add £2bn to annual council spending on adult social care in England.
In mental health, the focus will be on the exclusion of people over 65 from some services, such as psychological therapies targeted at adults of working age, and age-based barriers between services which disrupt continuity of care.
Kate Jopling, head of public affairs at Help the Aged, said specialist geriatric mental health services were justifiable to treat conditions such as dementia, but current divisions went beyond this.
Jopling added that the personalisation agenda in social care, which will make public funding levels for each service user fully transparent, “provided the perfect opportunity to build out age discrimination”.
Anne McDonald, the Local Government Association’s programme director for community well-being, said the legislation was likely to improve social care, but added: “If there’s an extra cost we would expect that to be met [by government].”
There will be a transitional period before the legislation, due in the 2008-9 parliamentary session, comes into force to allow industries to prepare. However, Jopling called for a “clear timetable for action” and as little delay as possible.
● Is age discrimination rife in mental health and social care? Have your say at CareSpaceNicola Brewer, head of the Equality and Human Rights Commission